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2019: Sunny Ofehe’s APC And The Burden Of Rotation/Zoning Of Delta Governorship

One thing that the Netherlands-based activist-turned-politician, Comrade Sunny Ofehe, in relations with his governorship ambition has  strongly canvassed for is that the All Progressive Congress (APC) should allow a level playing field for all of its aspirants.

Ofehe, an Isoko Chief from Iyede Kingdom, had over time expressed his unshaken position that APC should not tow the path of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), that’s relying on the gentlemanly zoning/rotation agreement between the three Senatorial District (3SDs) that make up the state.

The agreement, they claimed brought former governor, Chief James Ibori who contested against Chief Moses Kragha of All Peoples Party (APP), an Urhobo to power in 1999. After beating Prof. Sam Oyovbarie, who was advised to tag along in the new scheme of things, it was all smooth sail for Ibori in his first term as governor. Aspirants of other political parties were practically shut out because the actors had agreed it must be Urhobo.

That same unwritten agreement, they claimed brought Dr Emmanuel Udaughan of PDP from Delta South who also contested against Chief Great Ogboru, another Urhobo that has become the longest standing governorship contester Delta state has ever had.

The agreement was also the pivot for the intensified 2014-2015 power shift campaign to the Delta North senatorial district of the state. It is believed in the state that since both the Central and South had produced governor, power must also shift to the North for the sake of equity and fair play.

However, equity in law aids the vigilant, not indolent and the Anoima people having this in mind didn’t get it eventually on a platter of gold. Even though it was a PDP unwritten ideology that power rotation/zoning should be between the 3Ds, it was a struggle and a strong fight that they won. The struggle ended with the incumbent governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa’s emergence with about 24 others who also jostled for the plum job.

When in 1999 Ibori, out of the blues stood firm to clinch the PDP governorship ticket and won the subsequent election, Chief Peter Okocha who stood against him in his second term under Action Congress (AC) was from Delta North Senatorial District (DNSD). Another Urhobo, Moses Oddiri also challenged him in a healthy competition that was later won by one person. By mid-2002 when the momentum was peaking for the 2003 elections, Chief Great Ogboru of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) joined out of favour members of the PDP who stood for the election from the Central as Ibori.

Enter Ofehe, a 2019 APC governorship aspirant who is gaining grounds in the race.  Though a neophyte in the politics of Delta state, he wants to change the narratives of the politics in the state only if Deltans could give him the chance. He believes that whatever agreement that has taken the governorship to the Northern part of the state was purely a PDP idea of how power ought to be shared, and not a binding formula that power must rotate or be zoned to a particular senatorial district.

According to him, APC as a political party that is gearing to unseat the ruling PDP at the state level must canvass its own ideology and formula of sharing political offices. He insisted that adopting a PDP unwritten agreement for power rotation/zoning that has only bred mediocrity over the years was not a good start to right the wrongs PDP has done to the state.

This was why, when Ofehe visited APC leader, Olorogun Otega Emerhor and other APC leaders in Enwreni recently, his major appeal besides asking the major actors to reconcile their differences, was for them to ensure a level playing field for all governorship aspirants. He maintained that anyone who is interested in the race should be allowed to go into the field for a fair contest and whoever emerges should be adequately supported without ill-feelings.

With Ibori’s position sometime ago when he threw his weight behind Okowa’s second term ambition, it should be clear that APC and other minority political parties were not being considered as equal stakeholders in the political equation after all.

Presumably that’s why the supposed endorsement had at that time triggered public backlash from stakeholders including Olorogun Emerhor who opposed Ibori on the endorsement of Okowa. Apparently because it was hinged on the premises that backing Okowa for a second term in office was in anticipation that the Delta North Senatorial District would throw its support behind an Urhobo PDP candidate when the time comes, as though there are no other political parties and ethnic group who would want to wrestle power come 2019.

After Ibori, power rotation/zoning became a PDP winning stroke among the 3SDs of Delta state and for this pundits have maintained is one reason Delta appears to have become a one-party state because PDP being the pioneer ruling party have conscientiously made Deltans believe that power rotation among the 3SDs is the only option to balance the inequality in the political equation of the state.

This strategy has worked for the PDP against the other opposition parties who have also not had the opportunity to produce a governor under their platform. This also means once power is zoned to a particular senatorial district, by tribal and moral sentiments people tend to vote that SD thus shutting off candidates of other political parties in the race under the guise that when it gets to their turn other SDs would also support them. Former Governor Uduaghan won his two elections based on this premise at a time the agitation for power shift was taken to the highest heavens in mid-2006 when the momentum was peaking for the 2007 elections.

Incumbent governor, Okowa is singing the same tune that morally he should be allowed to complete another tenure of four years. The PDP believes that they have the power till 2023 when it will rotate to another SD under their party while a section of the opposition party, APC, rather than throw their ticket open for a healthy competition are also rooting for a Delta Northern candidate believing that it was the only way to unseat Okowa.

Political watchers in the state are however wondering how the APC would be able to challenge Okowa in his zone. Going by this writer’s permutation if Okowa would win any district landslide it is the DN, his own zone where he calculatingly in 2015 gambled out his senatorial seat and clinched the  governorship.

Pundits say if Okowa can gamble out his senate seat after one term in the upper chamber of the National Assembly, he would do everything humanly possible to retain his seat and show that he is popular among his people in Delta North. Moves by APC however to pick a candidate from that zone with the hope of giving Okowa a fight in his domain would be a miscalculation that they would leave to regret.

Despite his limitations, Ofehe whose philosophy represents the general interest of the people for a change believes that aspirants like himself outside Okowa’s zone are best positioned to tackle the incumbent Governor and give PDP a run for their money. His disposition is that Okowa’s fragile popularity is mainly in the DN district because of the “Anioma agenda”, saying that if APC South and Central can unite forcefully, with the gladiators putting their personal interest aside, they can literally cage the governor to his enclave and possibly share the DN votes.

Among the major contenders that APC has in the DN is former Delta state Speaker, Rt Hon Victor Ochei, renowned professor of economics, Prof Pat Utomi as well as Dr Cairo Ojougboh. These men are the main challengers that have thrown their hat into the ring wanting to also using the “Anoima agenda” to canvass for votes under the APC platform come 2019.

Ochei, excluding the rest during the PDP governorship primary in 2014 before he defected from the party without any known external forces or establishment support came third in the overall contests, thus hitting a bull’s eye in the politics as one who can challenge the incumbent governor easily in a different platform.

The former Speaker also has a huge follower-ship like Chief Ogboru’s cult-like following that could work for him. For Ogboru, however,  except a deal is brokered before the election, some aggrieved members of his own party APC would work against him to the advantage of the ruling PDP.

Analysts say Prof Utomi who is also relatively known in the Delta politics like Ofehe has maintained a carriage that if he is truly rallied  around could spring a surprise. Whether Utomi, Ofehe, Ochei, Ojougboh or Ogboru that appear to be the main actors of the APC, only a formidable alliance can oust an incumbent that is also desperate to retain his seat.

It is believed that the friction that had torn APC apart in the state stemmed from political permutations ahead 2019 and 2023. On the first hand, while a section of the party is scheming to gain power in 2019, another is planting their imprint for 2023 believing that they cannot dismantle the existing PDP rotation/zoning politics.

On the other hand, Okowa’s PDP wants a completion of their eight years tenure to start a new dispensation of rotation/zoning of the governorship which would then become a subject of fresh horse trading in 2023.

However, there is a political line of thoughts in the state that is also being supported by some APC gladiators that sustaining the unwritten agreement for power rotation and zoning by political parties is the only way to balance the political equation. Those on these believed that the APC’s bid to uproot PDP when DN was yet to complete its own eight years term would alter the applecart and set the people into another power shift agitations.

For these, it remains unclear how Ofehe’s APC would be able to unravel the burden of rotation/zoning in the budding politics of Delta state to choose a credible aspirant among the line of persons squaring up for the plum job that can rattle Okowa and his PDP in the 2019 general elections.

Written by Joe Ogbodu